Where Dreams Descend / Janella Angeles / Review

Where Dreams Descend

Blurb

In a world where female magicians end up disappearing into thin air, Kallia is a rising star. As the headlining act at Hellfire House, Kallia spends her nights dazzling gamblers and drunks with her magic, hidden behind her stage presence and her very literal mask. But Kallia longs for a life outside of Hellfire House, the life of a true stage magician. Everyone will know her name. Everyone will know her face. When Kallia learns that the famous and mysterious Conquering Circus is coming to neighboring city and hosting a competition to find the next great magician, she is tempted to leave her home at Hellfire House behind. When she finds that the master of the house has been keeping secrets--and that her existence at Hellfire House has been a lie all along--Kallia makes up her mind: flee into the dangerous woods, enter the foreign city, and try her hand at the competition of a lifetime. 


Pros

  • Theatrics: Driven by stage magicians and circus performers, this book embraces its theatrical nature. Starting with a dramatis personae and sectioning the work into distinct acts, Janella Angeles frames her novel in a gimmick and then creates a world that is one giant stage. Sometimes a gimmick can be too much, but this gimmick works just right for the flare of the characters and the magical world Angeles creates.
  • Strong Female Lead: There are some drawbacks when it comes to Kallia as the "star" of this novel, but she fully embraces herself and her power. She is strong and confident, physically and mentally. She also embraces her femininity, which is a nice touch. 
  • Worldbuilding: Angeles creates a world that is as fantastical as it is matter-of-fact. An island of stage magicians who perform real magic, a creepy forest that can cause travelers to lose more than just their sense of direction, and a town on the verge of freezing over: all of the pieces fit. On top of incorporating fantastical, dark, and spine-chilling details, Angeles weaves these details together so seamlessly that they become natural to the story, as natural as a dark forest or wicked witch in a fairy tale. 

Cons

  • Sentence Fragments: This may seem like a nitpicky and annoying critique, but this was the very first thing I notice. Like all literary devices, sentence fragments have their place, but here they were overused, especially in the beginning pages. The overabundance of short, jagged, incomplete sentences at the start was startling and off-putting. This book was one of my most-anticipated reads of the year, and it was a major disappointment to find myself disengaged from the start because of the writing style. I had to work to get through the opening chapters. While ultimately the effort was worth it, some others might not make that effort. 
  • A Boys' Club: To a great extent, the overbearing masculine force in this book is intentional. After all, there are only three options for female magicians: 1) live a respectable life as a labor magician using magic for cooking and embroidery, 2) live a less-than-respectable life as a lowkey performer in a circus or nightclub, or 3) try to conquer the true magician's stage and disappear forever. Kallia, in reaching for her goal, constantly comes up against men who want her out of the club, men who are jealous of her power and put her down. That's part of the plot, and that I don't mind. The problem with the "boys' club" power of this book, however, is that even the strong female characters reinforce it. Kallia is our lead, a rebel who shows these men that women can have power, too. The women of the Conquering Circus stand behind her, proving her point. Yet Kallia and these circus performers are shown as atypical, unique in their power and their desire to use it. Most women live quiet lives doing mundane magic. There is a cast of exceptional women, but because they are the exception, they only serve to reinforce the male-driven mentality of the book. The message almost seems to be, "If you are an exceptional woman, you can beat the odds and make your way to the stage." And along with that, if you aren't exceptional, you don't even show up in the book--just as the male magicians would have it be.
  • Mismatched Descriptions: Though Angeles's matter-of-fact descriptions serve to ground her worldbuilding in a sense of reality, this sober tone does a disservice to the most important piece: the displays of actual magic. Kallia's magic is supposedly impressive, immersive, dangerous, explosive. Yet the descriptions of her feats fall flat. I wanted to be blown away. I wanted to be swept up in the magic of it all. I was disappointed when what should have been the most enchanting part of this novel wasn't very exciting at all.

Rating

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
7/10

Fans of the confident and powerful protagonist of Sarah J. Maas's Throne of Glass are likely to fall right in step with Kallia and her quest for the spotlight. Those looking for a world as immersive, magical, and creepily dark as Stephanie Garber's Caraval should take a look at this world of stage magicians and sabotage.

Details

Publisher: Wednesday Books
Date: August 25, 2020
Series: Kingdom of Stars
Buy It HERE

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